The Ark

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

Mikdash

 

Lecture 124: The Ark

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

            We have just completed a series of shiurim in which we dealt with several issues relating to the sacred vessels (who fashioned the vessels, the significance of the location of the vessels, their orientation, etc.). We will now begin examining the vessels themselves.

 

            There are many details regarding each of the sacred vessels that require discussion, beyond their precise locations and orientations. For example:

 

·           The vessel's name and its meaning in Scripture, Chazal, and the Rishonim.

·           The various appearances of the vessel in Scripture and what they mean.

·           The form and dimensions of the vessel.

·           The material from which the vessel is fashioned.

·           The service in which the vessel is used in the Mikdash.

·           Who performs that service.

·           The spiritual significance of the vessel in the Mikdash.

 

In certain cases, we must consider not only the vessel's function in the Mishkan, but the various developments in the First and Second Temples. Sometimes, these developments reflect upon the essence of the vessel or upon the relationship between the vessel and the structure as a whole or the other vessels near it.

 

In the coming shiurim, we shall examine the various vessels from the inside outwards, from west to east - from the Holy of Holies, through the Holy, and finally the courtyard. We will deal with the following issues:

 

·           We will begin with an examination of the various names of the ark and their meanings, the way that the ark is described in Parshiot Teruma and Ekev, and the relationship between these two parshiot. Based on this, we will discuss whether there was only one ark or two arks.

·           We will attempt to understand the relationship between the ark and the kaporet and keruvim. Are we dealing with one vessel or with two?

·           We will learn about the structure of the ark, its dimensions, form, and materials.

·           We will consider the ways in which the poles of the ark are unique in comparison to the poles of the other vessels (the table, the golden altar, the brass altar), and what the meaning of the prohibition of removing the poles from the ark is.

·           Who bears the ark? What objects lie in the ark and in the Holy of Holies? What is its uniqueness as a separate vessel?

·           We will try to understand the significance of the ark's being hidden away in the days of Yoshiya.

·           Afterwards, we shall deal with the kaporet, its name, meaning, dimensions, materials, and form, and with the keruvim – its name, location, form, and materials.

·           We will consider the relationship between the keruvim and idol worship and the significance of the fact that there are two keruvim in the Holy of Holies.

·           We will conclude with the correspondence between the ark and the table and between the kaporet and the candlestick.

 

THE ARK OF TESTIMONY

 

            Scripture refers to the ark by several names, each one of them expressing a different aspect of the ark.

 

            The term "ark of the Testimony" is found many times in the sections dealing with the Mishkan. This term is first used at the end of the section describing God's command to Moshe to build the Mishkan:

 

And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the kaporet, from between the two keruvim which are upon the ark of the Testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel. (Shemot 25:22)

 

            This verse comes after the Torah already noted twice with respect to the ark and the kaporet: "And you shall put in the ark the Testimony which I shall give you" (vv. 16, 21). It is precisely in the context of the kaporet and of God's meeting (vi'ud) with Moshe from above the kaporet, that the Torah calls the ark "the ark of the Testimony (edut)."

 

            The ark is also called by this term in the section that describes the covering of the vessels of the Mishkan (Bamidbar 4:5), as well as when the ark is carried by the priests when Yehoshua and all of Israel cross the Jordan.

 

            What does this name mean? Several suggestions have been proposed:

 

1. TESTIMONY – THE TABLETS OF THE TESTIMONY

 

            At first glance, the term "Testimony" refers to the tablets of the Testimony, as it is stated in the book of Shemot:

 

And He gave to Moshe, when He had made an end of speaking to him upon Mount Sinai, two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God. (31:18)

 

Rashi explains the verse at the end of Shemot similarly:

 

"And he took and put the Testimony" – the tablets. (40:20)

 

            Elsewhere, however, Rashi explains:

 

"The Testimony" – the Torah, which is for testimony. (25:16)

 

Here Rashi seems to understand the term "Testimony" as referring not to the tablets, but to a Torah scroll.[1]

 

            The Ibn Ezra (ad loc.) writes as follows:

 

The tablets are the Testimony, like a ketuba deed, they being the tablets of the covenant. And the best proof: "And he took and put the Testimony into the ark." And furthermore, Moshe did not [yet] write a Torah scroll, and the priests placed the Torah scroll alongside the ark of the covenant of God on the outside. Furthermore, it says: "There was nothing in the ark save the two tablets of stone" (I Melakhim 8:9). And this is the subject of dispute.

 

The Ibn Ezra adduces several proofs that it is the tablets which are the Testimony, and not a Torah scroll:

 

·           Moshe has not yet written a Torah scroll.

·           The book of the Torah was placed not in the ark, but alongside the ark on the outside.

·           With respect to God's house in the time of Shelomo, the verse in Melakhim says that the ark contained only the tablets, and not a book of the Torah.

 

THE FIRST TABLETS OR THE SECOND TABLETS?

 

            It says at the beginning of Parashat Teruma: "And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I shall give you" (Shemot 25:16). If indeed the reference is to the tablets of the Testimony, the question remains: Which set of tablets?

 

            The tablets mentioned in the verse cited above (31:18) clearly refer to the first set of tablets, about which it says:

 

And Moshe turned, and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand, tablets written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other side were they written. And the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved upon the tablets. (Shemot 32:15-16)

In the wake of the sin of the Golden Calf, however, Moshe shatters those tablets, and he is later commanded to carve two stone tablets like the first:

 

And it came to pass, when Moshe came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of Testimony in Moshe's hand, when he came down from the mountain, that Moshe knew not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. (Shemot 34:29)

 

Thus, the second tablets are also called tablets of the Testimony, even though they are inferior to the first set.

 

The Ibn Ezra writes in the continuation as follows:

 

And it says: "And He gave to Moshe, when He had made an end of speaking to him" (Shemot 31:18). But surely he broke them and did not fulfill God's command! It may be answered that it is perhaps for this reason that our Sages said that the broken tablets were placed in the ark. Scripture does not contradict their words, because [both] the first ones and the later ones were tablets of the covenant. We can also answer that Scripture spoke only of the second tablets. And there is no question from the words, "which I shall give you," for also about them it is written: "And the Lord gave them to me" (Devarim 10:4).[2] Furthermore, we do not find that God said to Moshe that he should make the ark and put in it the first tablets, because God knew that Moshe would break them. Only about the tablets carved by Moshe did He say: "And make for yourself an ark of wood" (Devarim 10:1).

 

According to the Ibn Ezra, it is certainly possible to conclude that the ark of the Testimony refers to the second set of tablets. So too explains the Shakh:

 

"And you shall put the Testimony which I shall give you." Here He hints to him about the second tablets, which he would eventually put in Betzalel's ark, they being testimony for Israel that He has forgiven them for the incident involving the Golden Calf. For this reason, He did not say: "And you shall put the tablets which I shall give you," for those tablets were broken and they were placed in the ark made by Moshe.[3]

 

THE TABLETS OF THE TESTIMONY

 

A further question may be raised: Why are the "tablets of the Testimony" called by that name?

 

The Bekhor Shor writes:

 

He wrote them on two tablets, that they should be for us like two witnesses. (Shemot 31:18)

 

In other words, the "Testimony" consists of the fact that we are dealing with two tablets. The term refers not to the content of the testimony, but to the fact that there are two tablets bearing testimony.

 

            The Bekhor Shor's source seems to be Midrash Devarim Rabba:

 

"Two tablets" – Why two? The Rabbis said: The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: They give testimony between Me and My children, corresponding to the two friends of the bridegroom, corresponding to the bridegroom and bride, corresponding to heaven and earth, corresponding to this world and the World-to-Come." (3, 16)

 

            Another explanation of the Testimony is found in Midrash Ha-Gadol (ad loc.):

 

"Two tablets of the Testimony" – Why two tablets? So that they should be for Israel like two witnesses. As it says: "And I took to myself faithful witnesses" (Yeshayahu 8:2). The tablets were from the earth, while the writing was from heaven. This is what Moshe said to them: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day" (Devarim 4:26).

 

What is special about this testimony is that it includes both heaven and earth. The material upon which the Ten Commandments were written comes from the earth, but the writing comes from heaven. Thus, the significance of the tablets of the Testimony – heaven and earth together testify about the word of God.

 

            Midrash Lekach Tov (ad loc.) explains the matter as follows:

They serve as testimony for Israel that He chose them from among all the nations and tongues, as it is says: "I am the Lord your God who took you out from the land of Egypt."

 

In other words, the tablets attest to the Divine selection of Israel.[4]

 

IV. TESTIMONY – THE TORAH SCROLL

 

            A second possibility is to understand that the "ark of the Testimony" was called by that name because of the Torah scroll that was placed inside it.[5]

 

            As Moshe's life draws to a close, he commands the Levites:

 

And Moshe commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, “Take this Torah scroll and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.” (Devarim 31:25-26)

 

            The Seforno explains (ad loc.):

 

“That it may be there for a witness against you” – It will testify that I knew that you would leave God's Torah, blessed be His name, and that because of this I had to put another Torah scroll there, where nobody enters except for the High Priest once a year. And this book will testify that whatever is written in the books of the Torah found in the hands of the righteous of the generation are the words that were told to Moshe at Sinai, with no addition or subtraction. And for this reason, no uncertainty shall arise for you about them.

 

According to the Seforno, the testimony offered by the book of the Torah relates to the truth and wholeness of the Torah as it is, with nothing added and nothing missing.

 

            In the Da'at Mikra commentary (ad loc.), Aharon Demski explains that the testimony referred to in verse 28 is a warning. He refers us to Moshe's previous words, about five verses earlier, where he says:

 

And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles have befallen them, that this poem shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed – for I know their inclination, and what they do, even now, before I have brought them into the land of which I swore. (v. 21)

 

            The difficulty with this approach is that the Torah was written and placed in the ark in the fortieth year, whereas the Torah mentions the placement of the Testimony in the ark already in the second year. (This took place during the first forty days that Moshe was on Mount Sinai according to the Ramban or on Yom Kippur according to Rashi, but they both agree that it was in the second year).

 

            The Abravanel struggles with this difficulty and resolves it as follows:

 

It is possible to explain the Testimony mentioned here that he should put the Torah scroll into the ark and also the song of Ha'azinu which God (blessed be He) commanded should be there forever. And the idea is that he should put it next to the ark alongside it. And this is in accordance with what it says: "And you shall put el the ark the Testimony," as if he had said: "And you shall put with (im) the ark and next to it the Testimony which I shall give you."

 

            The Abravanel resolves the difficulty by joining the song of Ha'azinu to the Torah scroll. The Abravanel connects the command in the book of Shemot to the command in the book of Devarim. It would seem that he maintains that there is a single command to place the Torah scroll together with the song of Ha'azinu alongside the ark of the Testimony.

 

            The song of Ha'azinu is connected to testimony. This is stated explicitly before the song, following the command to put the book of the Torah alongside the ark of the covenant of God:

 

Gather to Me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to witness against them. (Devarim 31:28)

 

This theme similarly appears at the end of the song:

 

And He said to them: “Set your hearts to all the words which I testify among you this day, which you shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this Torah.” (Devarim 32:46)

 

            The Abravanel explains the verse, "And you shall put el the ark the Testimony," in literal fashion, as if it read: “And you shall put alongside the ark the Testimony which I shall give you.”

 

            According to this understanding, the location of the Torah scroll and of the Testimony is the same, because they are one and the same thing.

 

THE TABLETS OF TESTIMONY OR THE TORAH

 

            We have seen two possible understandings of "the ark of the Testimony" – the tablets of Testimony or the Torah. What is the difference between these two understandings?

 

            It may be suggested that what lies behind these two understandings is the meaning of the "the ark of the Testimony." If the Testimony is the tablets, this means that the ark is directly connected to the revelation at Sinai, to the event itself. Accordingly, the Testimony relates to the past, the assembly that established the connection between God and the people of Israel following the Exodus from Egypt. But if the reference is to the Torah, there is a connection between the ark of the Testimony and the Torah itself, the Torah which embraces God's word in this world in the broadest sense, the Written Law that includes the 613 commandments and also all of the commandments that would be given to Israel in future generations.

 

            The Maharal in his commentary, Gur Aryeh, relates to the two understandings in Rashi, according to which on the one hand the Testimony refers to the Torah, while on the other hand it refers to the tablets of Testimony. We shall first cite his words and then explain them:

 

“The Torah, which is Testimony between Me and you.” R. Eliyahu Mizrachi asked why he explained it in this manner, for he did not put the Torah into the ark until the end of the forty years. But it is written immediately in the execution (below 40:20): "And he put the Testimony into the ark." And there [Rashi] explains: "The testimony – the tablets." These are the words of the Re'em.

But he was not precise in the matter. For since it is written: "And you shall put in the ark the Testimony which I shall give you" (v. 21), and this cannot refer to the tablets, for God did not give the tablets to Moshe, but rather Moshe carved them (Rashi, below, 34:1). And you cannot say it refers to the broken tablets that were placed in the ark (Bava Metzia 14a), for why would it connect it on the broken tablets and not on the whole tablets? Furthermore, the tablets that are not whole are not testimony, for testimony must be whole, and how can something that is already broken be testimony? Rather, this refers to the Torah, which he would put into the ark. And even though in Parashat Vayelekh (Devarim 31:26), Rashi explains that there is disagreement about this, for there are those who say that the scroll was placed in the ark, and there are others who say that it was placed alongside the ark, for a shelf projected from the ark on which it rested – what of this? According to the one who says that it rested alongside the ark, we can explain "And you shall put in the ark the Testimony" to mean alongside the ark.

And so it is proven in the Yerushalmi (Shekalim 6:1), which brings a disagreement. R. Meir maintains that the ark rested in the ark, whereas R. Yehuda maintains that it rested alongside the ark. What is the reason of R. Meir? "And you shall put the kaporet above upon the ark" (Shemot 25:21). R. Meir maintains that there is no earlier or later in the Torah (see Pesachim 6b). Rather, "And into the ark you shall put the Testimony which I shall give you," which refers to the Torah. And this is because it is written, "Which I shall give you," and it was necessary to say that there is no earlier or later in the Torah. First, he put the Torah into the ark, and afterwards he put the kaporet upon the ark. Now that the verse refers to the Torah, the words, "which I shall give you" are fine, for even though Moshe wrote the Torah, it can still say, "which I shall give you," for He gave him its contents. Regarding the tablets, however, it cannot refer to what was in them, for the words on the tablets were already given to Israel at Mount Sinai. And furthermore, the words written on the tablets were not given only to Moshe, but to all of Israel, and the words, "which I shall give you," are inappropriate. This is to the exclusion of the Torah, about which it is written: "And this is the Torah which Moshe set before the children of Israel" (Devarim 4:44). But in the execution [of the building of the Mishkan] (below 40:20), when Israel still had not been given the Torah, it was necessary to explain "Testimony" as referring to the tablets. This is simple. (Shemot 25:21)

 

            R. Eliyahu Mizrachi asks why Rashi explains here that the word Testimony refers to the Torah and not to the tablets. Surely, the Torah was only put in the ark at the end of the fortieth year in the wilderness! Moreover, it is written, "And he put in the ark the Testimony," the reference being to the tablets of Testimony, and not to the Torah.

 

The Maharal argues that R. Mizrachi was imprecise, for the verse states, "And in the ark you shall put the Testimony which I shall give you," and this cannot refer to the tablets, for these tablets were not given to Moshe by God, but rather Moshe carved them himself. It can also not refer to the broken tablets that were in the ark, because tablets that are not whole are not Testimony, for Testimony must be whole, and therefore we must say that the word Testimony refers to the Torah.

 

To support this understanding, the Maharal cites the Yerushalmi in Shekalim, where R. Meir adduces proof that the Torah rested in the ark from the fact that the Torah says here that we are dealing with the Torah and not with the tablets. Therefore, the words, "I shall give you," were not written about the writing of the words, but rather about the words themselves that were given over to Israel, which was not the case with the tablets.

 

The Ten Commandments that were etched in the stones were told to Israel at Mount Sinai. The giving of the tablets refers to the tablets themselves, and this cannot be said about the second set of tablets, for it was Moshe who had carved them. Therefore, the “Testimony” cannot refer to the tablets, because neither the words nor the tablets were given to Moshe. This is not the case with the Torah – that is, its contents.

 

Furthermore, the words written on the tablets were given not only to Moshe, but to all of Israel. Therefore, a distinction must be made between what is stated here – "And you shall put into the ark," the reference being to the Torah placed in the ark when it was ready - and what is stated about the execution of the building of the Mishkan, when the Torah had not yet been given to Israel. There, we do not find the words, "which I shall give you," and therefore the Testimony refers to the tablets.

 

It follows from the words of the Maharal that in Teruma, the word Testimony refers to the Torah and not to the tablets, both because God did not give the tablets to Moshe, but rather Moshe himself carved them, and because broken tables are not considered as testimony, as testimony must be whole. In Pikudei, however, when the Torah had not yet been given and there is no mention of Testimony "which I shall give you," the reference is to the tablets. Rashi therefore understands the Testimony here as referring to the Torah.

 

III. EDUT - ADI

 

            The Tzeror ha-Mor says:

 

The Testimony (edut)– this is the Torah which is an ornament (adi) and decoration and testimony for Israel that God chose them from among all nations. (Shemot 25:16)

 

He understands that the word "edut" refers to the Torah, for the Torah itself is an ornament (adi) and decoration, which constitute testimony for Israel that they are the chosen people.

 

IV. EDUT – YI'UD

 

            The Netziv writes in Ha-Amek Davar:

 

Edut in the sense of ed - witness, as explained by Rashi. Also in the sense of yi'ud – meeting, for it connects God and Israel, as it were. (Shemot 25:16)

 

The Netziv suggests that in addition to the sense of "testimony" that is brought by Rashi, the word edut can be connected to the word "vi'ud" – meeting. This point is connected to the fact that above the ark of edut was the place where God met with Moshe, as is stated in Shemot 25:22: "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you."[6]

 

            According to this understanding, there is an essential connection between edut and the fact that God meets with Israel.

 

            According to these explanations, and especially according to the understanding that the "testimony" is the tablets or the Torah, the testimony relates to the covenant between God and the people of Israel – the tablets or the Torah serving as a written expression of this covenant.

 

            "Vi'ud" relates to the oral revelation from above the kaporet between the two keruvim on the ark of the Testimony, a living testimony to the Torah that is continually being renewed and handed over from God to Moshe and the people of Israel.

 

            In this sense, there is a deep connection between "edut" and "vi'ud," even if etymologically these two words stem from two separate roots.

 

            In any event, whether the reference is to the tablets or to the Torah scroll, it is interesting that the matter of Testimony is so central that it leaves its imprint on the name of the Mishkan in general and on the Ohel Mo'ed.

 

            The Mishkan is sometimes called "the Mishkan of Testimony." So in Shemot 38:21: "These are the accounts of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony, as they were counted, according to the commandment of Moshe, for the work of the Levites by the hand of Itamar the son of Aharon the priest."

 

            In a previous shiur, we demonstrated the special connection between the term Mishkan and the Holy of Holies. According to the understanding that the "Testimony" refers to the tablets or the Torah that were located in the Holy of Holies, the structure as a whole is called Mishkan of the Testimony because of that testimony.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 



[1] Some understand that according to Rashi the reference is not to a Torah scroll, but to the tablets, which are also called "Torah"; see Torah Sheleima, Shemot 25:16, no. 123 in notes.

[2] In the continuation, the Ibn Ezra discusses the question of whether the ark in Devarim is the same as Betzalel's ark, about which we are commanded in the book of Shemot, or if it is a different ark. We shall not expand upon the matter here, as we plan to deal with this issue in the coming shiurim.

[3] See also Torah Sheleima, Shemot 25:16, no. 124 in notes.

[4] It should be noted that the timing of the command, "And you shall put in the ark the Testimony which I shall give you," is connected to the fundamental disagreement regarding God's initial command regarding the building of the Mishkan: Was it before the sin of the Golden Calf or only afterwards? According to the Ramban, the Ibn Ezra, and others, who understand that the biblical account here is in proper chronological order, the command relates to the first set of tablets. According to Rashi, the Seforno, and all those who maintain that the account is not in proper chronological order, the command relates only to the second set of tablets. We expanded upon this issue in our shiurim dealing with the issue of whether the Mishkan was le-khatchila or only be-di'eved.

[5] The testimony of God is identified with His Torah also in Tehillim: "The Torah of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple" (19:8).

[6] We dealt with this issue in "The Mishkan and the Ohel Mo'ed, Testimony and Meeting, the Tents of Kedar and the Curtains of Shlomo," (http://vbm-torah.org/archive/mikdash4/93mikdash.htm). There, we dealt with the relationship between "edut" and "vi'ud" as one that parallels the relationship between the Holy of Holies and the Ohel Mo'ed – the Holy. We brought several views in Baraita de-Melekhet ha-Mishkan, chap. 14, regarding where it was that God spoke with Moshe – from above the kaporet, from above the incense altar, or from above the burnt-offering altar.